Six-Figure Harrumphing

OutliersI’m not proud of the fact that I harrumphed when I read on this here very blog that an 18-year-old girl from the UK has been awarded a six-figure book deal. I know, right? If I had to bet six figures on it, I’d wager that you’re harrumphing just a little too.

It’s not that I’m not happy for any writer who hits jackpot. It’s just a wee bit hard to hear when you find out said jackpot-hitting author is also a practically-still-in-nappies prodigy. But that harrumphing says a whole less about her than it does about me.

Closer inspection and words issued from a friend far wiser than me pointed out that Abigail Gibbs ‘took three years to become an overnight success’. That is, she actually put in a bunch of work to: a) write the book; b) hone her craft; and c) develop a readership courtesy of an online blog.

She’s still a prodigy in my book, but one in the hard-grist-plus-talent rather than the just-penned-something-on-a-whim-and-got-plucked-from-obscurity sense. And when you think of it in those terms, the six-figure deal isn’t so surprising or she’s-too-young unwarranted.

I mean, Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Outliers argues that while we often attribute success to brilliance and luck, it’s more likely practice. 10,000 hours of practice, to be precise. And the earlier you get in those hours of practice, the sooner you can become a success. Gibbs kicked this book off when she was 14 and she was likely writing long before that.

TwilightI’m sure Dark Heroine: Dinner With A Vampire is actually an excellent book. And I’m sure I’ll absolutely have to read it. As with such blockbusters as Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, and The Da Vinci Code, the hype has so tsunamied us that it’s become a book you have to read in order to be across the industry chatter and pop cultural memes.

Not that you’d have had to twist my arm much anyway—being YA fiction written by a vegetarian and animal rights advocate who’s almost as squeamish as I am, it’s kind of up my alley.

The book’s premise is interesting too. To paraphrase:

Protagonist Violet Lee is the only witness to a horrific mass murder dubbed ‘London’s Bloodbath’. Shown unexpected mercy by the culprits, Violet’s faced with an impossible choice: never returning to her old life or joining the vampiric villains. As she discovers the past behind her captors—the Varns—Violet also happens to develop a soft spot for handsome fourth son Kaspar, who also happens to be the heir to the throne.

Fifty Shades of GreyI think there are some more interesting elements to Gibbs’ worldwide publishing deal than her age and break-out success, not least that this is yet another bestseller that’s been inspired by Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight.

Do we need to give Twilight credit rather than the more common disdain? Or is it a sign that if you write a chaste book, we humans will in turn write sex-filled iterations? And if it’s the latter, what does that say about us?

Also worth noting is that in the same manner as EL James, Gibbs developed and published the work online before being picked up by a traditional publishing house. She turned the traditional publishing model on its head by writing and publishing the work and developing a readership independently and then having the agent and publishing house come to her.

Gibbs also grappled with the issue of the content already being out there and how then to convert people to paying readers once the book was out. Her agent savvily told her to withhold publishing the final chapters online.

I’ve stopped harrumphing and am instead intrigued. Is this the future of publishing? If so, the creative and financial control seems to be happily heading towards authors’ hands.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.